Willie Dixon Biography
Willie Dixon (July 1, 1915 – January 29, 1992) was a well-known American blues bassist, singer, songwriter, and record producer.
He was born as William James Dixon, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was a producer for Chess and Checker Records in Chicago and is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He worked with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim and others.
He had a colourful life. In his teens he had many scrapes with the law, and decided to hitchhike his way to Chicago. A giant of a man, he took up boxing, and was so successful as to win the Golden Gloves heavywight title in 1936. His progess in learning to play the bass was halted when he resisted the World War II draft, and was imprisoned for ten months. After the war, he re-united with his bass playing tutor, Baby Doo Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who went on to record for Columbia Records. Dixon subsequently signed for Chess Records as a recording artist, but by 1951 he was a full time employee of the label. His relationship with them was sometimes strained, although his spell there covered the years from 1948 to the early 1960s. During this time his output, and influence was prodigious. Indeed, he once claimed "I am the blues." This may seem a little arrogant, but there is no doubt that he was one of the major influences on the genre, through his original and varied songwriting, live performances, recording, and copious production work.
His double bass playing was of a high standard. He appears on many of Chuck Berry's early recordings, further proving his linkage between the blues and the birth of rock 'n' roll.
Dixon's genius as a songwriter, lay in refurbishing archaic Southern motifs, in contemporary arrangements. This produced songs with the backbone of the blues, and the agility of pop music. British R&B bands of the 1960's constantly drew on the Dixon songbook for inspiration.
In addition, as his songwriting and production work started to take a backseat, his organisational ability was utilised, putting together all-star, Chicago based blues ensembles for work in Europe.
His health deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s, due to long-term diabetes, and eventually his leg had to be amputated. It was during this latter period of his life that Willie Dixon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As the songlist below demonstrates, his work was covered by a varied range of artists, from the blues, to modern day rock music practioneers.
Willie Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank, California in 1992 and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
He wrote many famous blues songs, usually producing and playing bass when they were first recorded. Some of these, and the extensive subsequent covers, include: